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Greeting Body Language


Techniques > Using Body Language > Greeting Body Language

Handshake | Salute | Bowing | Waving | Hugging | Kissing | Facial signals | Words | Other | See also


There are many possible components of greeting as the styles vary significantly across social groups and cultures.

Greeting is a ritual that helps break the ice and paves the way for appropriate other interaction. Greetings can include signals that may even be secret, for example saying 'we're in the same club'.

Formality is often an important factor, and when you move from a formal greeting to an informal greeting is an important factor in development of a friendship. Too early and it is an insult. Too late and it you may be considered arrogant or distant.



Handshake variables include:

  • Strength (weak - strong)
  • Temperature (cold - hot)
  • Moisture (damp - dry)
  • Fullness of grip (full - partial)
  • Duration (brief - long)
  • Speed (slow - fast)
  • Complexity (shake - dance)
  • Texture (rough - smooth)
  • Eye contact (prolonged - intermittent - none)


A firm grip shows confidence, whilst a limp grip may indicate timidity, particularly in men (women may be expected to be more gentile). A firm grip by men also indicates they are more sensation-seeking.

Palm down indicates dominance and a feeling of superiority ('I am on top'). Palm sideways indicate equality. Palm up indicates submission.

A long handshake can indicate pleasure and can signal dominance, particularly if one person tries to pull away and the dominant person does not let them.

Dominance may also be shown by using the other hand to grip the person, such as at the wrist, elbow, arm or shoulder. This may also be done by gripping the shaken hand with both of your hands. This may also indicate affection or pleasure (which allows for an ambiguous signal).

A variant of the dominant handshake which is used by politicians who are being photographed and hence shake hands side-by-side is to stand on the left hand side of the other person. This means your hand will be on the outside and it will look like you are the dominant party to those viewing the photograph.

Responses to the dominant handshake can include counter-touching (use your other hand to hold their hand, wrist, elbow, arm or shoulder), hugging (pull them in), thrusting (push them away by pushing your hand towards them) and stepping the side.

Hand-touching is also used, for example the 'high five', where open palms are touched high in the air, or where closed fists are tapped. Where the other person is not gripped, the origins may be in potentially aggressive situations where holding of another could be construed as a threatening act.



Salute variables include:

  • Shape of hand (straight - curved)
  • Speed (fast - slower)
  • Head-touch (forehead - none)
  • Shape (up-down - curved)


The salute is a formal greeting where the open hand is brought up to the forehead. It is often used in the military in a strictly prescribed manner and situation.

There are several possible origins of this, including:

  • Shading the eyes from the brilliance of a superior person.
  • An abbreviation of raising one's hat or tugging the forelock (in the absence of a hat).
  • Raising helmet visor to show the face (to allow recognition and dispel fears of enmity).
  • Raising the hand to show it does not contain a weapon.



Bowing variables include:

  • Lowering (slight - very low)
  • Pivot (head - waist)
  • Duration (short - long)
  • Gender style (bow - curtsey)


Bowing is another formal greeting and can be as extreme as a full 90 degree bend from the waist to even complete prostration on the floor. This averts the eyes ('I dare not look at your majesty') and exposes the head ('You can kill me if you wish').

Bowing amongst peers is commonly used in a severely contracted form as a slight nod of the head. Even in the shortened form, the lower and longer the bow, the greater the respect that is demonstrated.

If eye contact is maintained during a bow, it can signify either mistrust or liking. Looking down as you bow indicates submission, although this also can just be a formal action.

The female variant on the bow is the curtsey, which again can be a full sinking to the floor or a slight bob. Similarly to bowing, this puts the person lower than the other person and into a position of greater vulnerability.

Bowing is different in different cultures. In countries such as Japan it is clearly defined and an important part of greetings. In other countries it is less important or maybe seen as obsequious.



Variables for waving include:

  • Open palm (flat - curved)
  • Movement angle (big - small)
  • Raised (above head - held low)
  • Direction (sideways rotation - up-down)


Waving can be done from a distance. This allows for greeting when you first spot another person. It also allows for

Waves gain attention and a big, overhead wave can attract a person from some distance. This also makes others look at you and is not likely from a timid person.

A stationary palm, held up and facing out is far less obvious and may be flashed for a short period, particularly if the other person is looking at you (all you need is that they see the greeting).

Greeting children is often done with a small up-and-down movement of fingers, holding the rest of the palm still. Between adults, this can be a timid or safe signal from a child position ('I won't harm you - please don't harm me.').



Hugging variables include:

  • Hand placement (shoulder, etc.)
  • Arms touch (none - wrap)
  • Body position (front - side - behind)
  • Pressure (light - strong)
  • Body touching (none - full)
  • Gender (man/woman - man/woman)


Hugging is a closer and more affectionate form of greeting than shaking hands and perhaps reflects a desire for bonding.

Hugging is generally more common between friends, although its usage does vary across cultures and is common in some places. Gender rules may also apply, for example hugging in America is far more common between women than between men. Harassment laws may also limit touching of the other person in what may be interpreted as an intimate way.

Full-body hugs create contact with breasts and between genitalia and hence may be sexually suggestive or stimulating. This tends to limit their use to romantic greetings, although they are still used in some cultures, including between men.

Light shoulder-only hugs are more common as social greetings, in which people lean forward in order not to break rules about touching breasts or genitalia.

Side-on, one-handed hugs are safer and can be a friendly touch. Even so, this still can be a deliberate romantic advance or act of domination (even if not, it may be perceived as such).

Longer, fuller hugs often signal greater affection and may happen between people who have not seen one another for some time.

Hugging someone from behind can be surprising and even threatening, and is usually only done by friends who trust one another implicitly.



Contact during kissing can be:

  • Lip/cheek to lip/cheek
  • Duration (peck - smooch)
  • Tongue (involved - not)
  • Gender (man/woman to man/woman)
  • Body involvement (none - full)


In some cultures, kissing is a part of social greeting. This may or may not include man-man and man-woman (which can lead to significant cross-cultural embarrassment).

The type of kiss is governed strongly by the relationship. Social greetings are relatively short, and may involve double or triple kissing, alternating either side of the face.

General friendship kissing may be longer and with more body contact, though mostly using arms to include a hug (and steady the body).

The most intense kiss is the romantic kiss which may well include full-length body touching, caressing with hands and lip-to-lip kisses that may even include interplay of tongues.

Facial signals

The face is used a great deal in sending greeting signals, and accompanies other greeting activity for example saying:

  • Smiling: I am pleased to see you.
  • Frowning: I am angry with you.
  • Raised eyebrows: I am surprised to see you.
  • Eyebrows together: I do not know your name.
  • Looking down: I am inferior to you.
  • Expressionless: I do not care about you.

Eye contact is particularly important in greeting and is usually held for a socially prescribed period. Prolonged eye contact can indicate both affection and dominance. Little or no eye contact can indicate timidity ('I dare not look at you'), dislike ('I do not want to see you') or dominance ('You are unimportant and below my interest.'). As with the handshake, a dominant signal may be sent under cover of the 'friendly' greeting.


The words used in greetings can change significantly with the culture and context.


Informal greetings often use non-words and short forms like 'Hi', 'Watcha', 'Yay' and so on. Formal meetings use more formal language, such as 'Hello', 'Greetings', 'Good day' and so on. In some cultures, greeting is very formal and a fixed set of words are required in specific situations, 'Greeting, O holy one, father of us all and master of the world'.

Other greetings

There are many other ways in which people greet and further subtleties around the actions above, including:

  • Touching or raising a hat
  • Pressing or rubbing noses
  • Touching or pressing bodies together in certain places and ways
  • Moving the body through a defined locus
  • Giving of gifts
  • Touching palms or fists

Greetings may also be extended to parting, for which there are many similar rituals, including handshakes, bows and words of praise.

See also

Face body language, Hand body language, Dominant body language, Proxemic communication, Hugging


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